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July 2015 Issue
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Extreme hut bagger

Nandurkar at Blue Lake on the Te Araroa Trail, in 2012.

Is it possible to visit every hut in New Zealand in just 900 days? Matthew Pike speaks to the man who’s devoting three years of his life to the task

The more you think about it, the more implausible it seems: visiting all of New Zealand’s 900 plus DOC huts in as many days. Where would you start? How do you convince your boss to give you the time off? What about those really remote huts miles from anywhere?

To make things even harder, Kuldeep Nandurkar – the man hoping to achieve this feat – is from India and only able to secure one-year visas at a time.

But this is far more than a flippant idea scribbled down after several beers. Nandurkar has already walked the Te Araroa Trail and it was after completing this in 2012 that the plan took shape.

“I love the country,” he says. “Te Araroa was the best tramping I’ve ever done. I thought I could spend my whole life tramping here.

“Then I read there are more than 900 huts and thought maybe I should do it. I talked to Brian Dobbie at DOC, who’s visited hundreds of huts. He seemed very excited and said he didn’t think anyone had done it before. This got me even more excited about the idea. If hasn’t been done, it should be done.”

But Nandurkar is under no illusions about the enormity of the task. He’s now planning his route in intricate detail to make sure he completes it as efficiently as possible.

“I’m planning to attack one forest park at a time,” he explains. “In most parks the huts are well spread so I may have to zigzag and revisit certain huts.” He says he’ll hitch lifts between each park and to restock on supplies.

He’s named the challenge 900 Days 900 Huts, though he admits the catchy title isn’t entirely accurate, as he does plan to visit all 970 huts on his trip.

“Some huts are close together and I can visit two or three in one day. Other huts are pretty remote and special skills are required to get there. I hope it balances out. The idea is to walk to all the huts – if I take more days than planned to do this, I don’t think it’s a problem.”

Nandurkar predicts that maintaining his enthusiasm for the task will be one of the toughest things to deal with. “It will take a lot of physical and mental stamina to do this. Keeping my motivation going every day is going to be difficult, but if I can do this, I’m pretty sure I should be able to complete the challenge.”

The visa situation may sap Nandurkar’s motivation, though he hopes it will help to reignite his thirst for the challenge. Between each 12-month permit he’ll have to remain out of the country for a year, meaning the whole challenge is going to take him at least five years to complete. But the adventurer knows he’s in a fortunate position in regards to being able to take this amount of time away from home.

“I’m fortunate that I have savings and a family that are very supportive. I’m selling part of my property to do this. Another advantage is I don’t have many priorities or responsibilities at this stage in my life.

“I don’t like work and if you had three years without worrying about getting a job, you’d do the same thing.”

Keen hut bagger Brian Dobbie thinks the challenge is a great idea. “If he’s well prepared, why not give it a crack,” he says. “What a neat thing to challenge yourself to do.”

But Dobbie, who has ticked off almost 700 huts over many years, questions the possibility of reaching all the huts. “Never say never, but there are some seriously challenging huts. You need to be an experienced climber to reach some alpine huts in Mt Cook and on the West Coast – he’d need to decide whether flying there is an option.

“But if he sticks to just visiting 900 huts that would take the pressure off. He could remove 70 that are too challenging to reach or logistically difficult. He’ll also need to be prepared to not reach huts first time round due to, say, river conditions. He might be better to miss a few and carry on, than spend days trying to get to a particular hut.”

Initially, Nandurkar was hoping to complete the trail anonymously, using the name Lofty Walker or even Kaihopara Ingoamuna, meaning ‘anonymous tramper’ in Maori. “I wanted this to be about the tramp itself, not the tramper. It could be you who is doing this. It could be anybody.” But in the end he realised his identity would be revealed sooner or later.

He’s hoping to get started in September and if there are any Wilderness readers who can spare three years for the challenge of a lifetime, Nandurkar’s looking for another tramper to join him. Anyone interested should contact him via his website 900days900huts.info. Perhaps you could one day share in the excitement of being the first to visit all of New Zealand’s huts.

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